Generation Snowflake. Now there’s a cohort that provokes a reaction. One the one hand, they’re an easily-offended bunch of coddled children who rage at “passive aggressive” punctuation, old statues and TV shows like America’s Next Top Model, while banging on about the benefits of a vegan diet.
On the other hand, they’re Generation Screwed, the most disadvantaged age group in history: wondering how they’re going to get a mortgage, a well-paid job, or, as they’ll gladly tell you, a break from relentless criticism.
The Collins English Dictionary defines “snowflakes” as”the young adults of the 2010s”, but as far as anyone over 40 is concerned, the term arguably extends to all under-25s, children included. The perception is that the whole lot of them have been raised to believe they are unique and special, and they are frustratingly fragile, and have never experienced the hardships that their elders lived through.
Yet as the Telegraph‘s Celia Walden wrote recently: “If the old family friend who was fond of saying ‘what that generation needs is a war’ were still alive today, she would agree that Covid-19 has invalidated the snowflake slur.” They’ve certainly had their war.
So where does that leave the snowflake debate? Tim Firth has been the headteacher at Wrekin College in Shropshire for the past five years and has seen, first hand, the impact of nonsensical labels on the young generation. “People use the term ‘snowflake’ as an insult,” he laughs. “But, when I asked one of our pupils what they thought of the name, they thought it was a compliment. ‘Sir, is it because we’re all different?’”
Different, and far more resilient than their elders previously gave them credit for. “Think about it,” he says. “Over the past year, pupils across the country have had their lives turned upside down. They’ve had to face Covid-19; the insecurity of Brexit; a turbulent economy. All the while they’ve been patronised and mocked for caring about environmental and societal issues.”
The 500 pupils attending the college are aged between 11 and 18. In line with pandemic regulations, they moved to online lessons, live assemblies and the occasional year-group-bubble when schools closed. But ‘Wrekinians’, as staff fondly name them, have adapted with profound optimism.
“They’ve brushed themselves off and started afresh,” says Firth. No easy feat, considering a previously packed school day with intermittent breaks is now replaced by gruelling hour-long virtual lessons.
“They’ve embraced the changes,” he says. “They’re even rehearsing for our annual ‘Sound of Music’ show. I don’t think any other generation has such a ‘show must go on’ attitude.”
Firth admits that the snowflake label might stem from jealousy among older generations. “When I was in school all those years ago, we were told to get on with it. There was no comfort or coddling. No one was aware of mental health; we sometimes noticed if one of our mates was constantly miserable.” Now, children and teenagers are more aware of the impact of their words. “They’re kinder,” he says. “And that, in my eyes, makes them stronger.”
For students in higher education, the year has been horrendous. In-person lectures and tutorials moved from auditoriums to online-only presentations until summer 2021, while thousands were forced to self-isolate in halls of residence with total strangers with whom they can’t socialise or form any kind of connection.
“They’re leaving [university] in the knowledge that the economy is rocky and that they are unlikely to get a job,” says Firth. “But they’re still ploughing on with studies and moving forward.”
He believes that the hardships of the past year have hardened the young generation to anything that life throws at them, from “the fight to get on the housing market to retiring at what? 90?”
In the coming years, Firth believes the outdated presumptions will evaporate like snowflakes themselves. “I often splutter when I hear people use the Darwinian argument,” he says. “It is utter nonsense that any generation would evolve to become weaker than another. The Covid-year has created harder and more resilient individuals to form society. And I can’t wait to see what they achieve.”